How to exert self-control

May 01, 2018
While extreme emotions can be hard to control, here are seven simple practices to help you respond rather than react.

How often have you heard a manager or colleague say in desperation something like: “keep emotions out of this” or “emotions have no place in business”. One might as well say people have no place in business because wherever people interact, you will find emotion.

Emotions can be uncomfortable at times, even scary. You may feel hurt. You may be in floods of tears, or angry, or on the verge of an outburst. But if you ‘act out’ such emotions, you will most likely regret it later. What will ultimately get noticed is your lack of control and the valuable point you wanted to make will be lost. 

However, there is nothing inherently wrong with any kind of emotion – every feeling has value and significance. Extremes are to be avoided, however, and balance is our goal.

Regulate your emotions

Controlling your emotions doesn’t mean ignoring or repressing them. It, instead, means learning to process and respond to them in healthy, helpful ways. Think of this process as regulating your emotions. In addition to helping you to feel more stable, this strategy can help improve your health and can certainly improve your relationships.

Even if we don’t have the awareness necessary to identify all our emotions, self-control is exercisable. It’s a skill that can be learned. So when emotions run high, how do we maintain our composure in the moment?
  • Always respond and never react. The choice is always yours;
  • Stop and re-focus. If you feel yourself spiralling out of control, take a conscious step back and focus on your physical senses. Feel your feet on the ground then locate and concentrate on the physical tension in your body, often found at the base of the neck or at the pit of the stomach. Alternatively, you might focus your attention on an object in your environment;
  • Take charge of your breathing. Fight or flight mode, so often experienced in such moments, activates your sympathetic nervous system by sending adrenaline and other chemicals racing through your body. It raises your heart rate, makes your breathing shallower, and causes your muscles to tense. Breathing deeply and evenly will help calm you by providing much needed oxygen to your body so you relax; and
  • Shake your body to release stress. If the situation allows, step out and find a private spot (the restroom, for example) and take a minute to physically shake the tension from your body before returning.
These simple grounding techniques put us in the present moment and can help prevent the mind from feeling overwhelmed. If, however, all you can manage is to count to 10, do that. 

Other techniques

Beyond these ‘in the moment’ techniques, other methods include:
  • Make time for meditation and mindfulness (see last issue’s article here). This will help you control your emotions by taking your focus away from them;
  • Use visualisation techniques. Practising the visualisation of a relaxing experience that you can later recall can also help you control immediate emotional responses; and
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). A daily 15-minute PMR session, even at your desk, can help relieve stress by systematically tensing and releasing your muscles in groups. This practice is also useful in identifying signs of physical tension in your body.
Practising the above techniques can help you avoid being hijacked by your emotions. It instead provides an opportunity to respond in a timely manner with professional composure from a balanced position so that you get heard.

Paul Price is is an Executive Coach at Dynamic Connections.